Voices: The Top 10: Epic cries of ‘What have we done?’

·3 min read
Boris Johnson and Michael Gove on the morning after the EU referendum (AFP/Getty)
Boris Johnson and Michael Gove on the morning after the EU referendum (AFP/Getty)

This list started because Ben Page tweeted No 10. Several nominations were received, including from Cathie Wood, Sean Rogers and Antony Carpen, for the image (above) of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove on the morning after the EU referendum.

1. God: “And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” Genesis 6:6. Hence the flood, although the big softie made an exception for Noah and his crew. Thanks to Nick Clayton.

2. Isaac Newton: “I can calculate the movements of the stars but not the madness of men.” He lost a fortune in the South China Sea Bubble, the crypto of its day. Nominated by James Dinsdale.

3. Alfred Nobel: Invented dynamite as a handy tool for miners; it never occurred to him that people would use it on each other. Left his vast fortune to prize funds, including for peace. From Elliot Kane.

4. Robert Oppenheimer: “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” He quoted the Bhagavad Gita some time after the test explosion of the first atomic bomb. What he actually said at the time was: “I guess it worked.” Thanks to Stewart Slater, HK Editor and Pat Roberts.

5. Colonel Nicholson: “What have I done?” Alec Guinness in The Bridge on the River Kwai realises he shouldn’t have revealed the plan to blow up the bridge to the Japanese, but luckily falls, wounded, onto the plunger on the detonator anyway. Nominated by Robert Boston and Tim Carrington.

6. Charlie Croker: “You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off.” Michael Caine in The Italian Job. Also addressed by Sarah Vine to Michael Gove, her husband, after the EU referendum. Thanks to Harry Wallop and Martin Sykes-Haas.

7. Gerald Ratner: “It’s not water under the bridge. It’s something I’ve been living with for the last 30 years. It’s like a scar on your face.” He sank his jewellery company in 1991 by saying its products were so cheap because they were “total crap”. Nominated by Richard Morris, who also suggested the final line of a scene from The Big Bang Theory, “Sheldon Meets His Date”.

8. Tony Blair: “You idiot. You naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop. There is really no description of stupidity, no matter how vivid, that is adequate. I quake at the imbecility of it.” Addressing himself in his memoir, about the Freedom of Information Act. Thanks to Mike Martin.

9. Margaret Beckett: “I’m beginning to wish that I hadn’t, to be quite honest about it.” Five weeks after nominating Jeremy Corbyn without intending to vote for him, the flaw in her plan to broaden the debate became evident. From David Herdson and Allan Holloway.

10. Eric Schmidt, former chief executive of Google: “The concept of social networks, broadly speaking, as amplifiers for idiots and crazy people is not what we intended.”

As I allowed fictional entries, I could have included Admiral Yamamoto: “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” The last line of Tora! Tora! Tora!, the 1970 film about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, nominated by Allan Holloway, Andrew Kitching and Akash Paun.

Next week: Most underrated children’s books.

Coming soon: Political careers that ended in success (without being “cut off midstream at a happy juncture”), contradicting Enoch Powell’s maxim.

Your suggestions please, and ideas for future Top 10s, to me on Twitter, or by email to top10@independent.co.uk